Henry kicks off first preseason with New York

Red Bulls star feeling fitter, but admits still not 100 percent

WALDWICK, N.J. – The first true preseason of Thierry Henry's MLS career kicked off this week, and the Red Bulls striker was pleased with the results.

On Tuesday, following an extended session of stretching and fitness, Henry and his teammates participated in small-sided touch games. He looked a tad lethargic but seemed to move effortlessly, a big difference from his fitness last fall when he battled injuries.

“I don’t remember ever having had cramps after playing an hour,” he said of that experience.

Last year, Henry blamed his health woes due to the lack of a proper preseason, and he looks set to change that. Earlier this month, Henry spent a week in London training with his old club Arsenal. The time in England was designed to help him get ready for preseason with the Red Bulls.

“A lot of ball work,” Henry said of his regimen with the Gunners. “Just trying to be in good shape before I come back here.”

The French striker, who joined the club midway through 2010 from La Liga giants Barcelona, struggled with fitness and injuries as he was immediately forced into the first team with little lead-up.

Henry never felt fully fit or healthy last year, despite having played 90 minutes on several occasions for New York before suffering the hamstring injury late in the season that shelved him for the last few regula- season games and the first playoff game at San Jose. He was a late-game substitute in the 3-1 home loss by New York in the return leg vs. the Earthquakes due to the nagging injury.

When asked by MLSsoccer.com, Henry refused to compare his fitness level between his arrival last summer and now. All that matters to him is that he was feeling better and healed after nearly eight weeks off.

“It’s better,” Henry said. “I’m not there yet.”

With the loss of striker Juan Pablo Angel, whose option with the Red Bulls was not picked up and is now with the LA Galaxy, the brunt of the goal-scoring responsibilities now rest on Henry. Head coach Hans Backe is confident that his forward, one of the most feared strikers of his generation, can carry the load.

“I’m absolutely sure that if he stays fit this season, we will see a very good striker,” Backe said.

Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer